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100 Years of Disney: The Art of Leadership


During my time with #Disney, it has always struck me how, even as one of the most high profile and under scrutiny organisations in the world, it has managed to stay fresh, #innovative and #dynamic. This is of course, no accident. When I work with organisations I always look to explore their culture, not the one described, but the lived one. Too often, I have worked with companies that talk about #empowerment, internal #entrepreneurship, #innovation and #creative flexibilities, rarely though, do you see it in action. Not that long ago, I was working with a major technology company in the audio/visual sector. The senior leadership talked about the vision of an empowered, trusted workforce, sadly, the reality was very different. Yes the desire was there but too much of the middle leadership team were still managing in a traditional low trust, prescriptive manner. The politics of which can of course be complex, from the challenge of managing egos to top down pressure, accountability systems to bonus structures. In this organisation, there was too much prescriptive management that #disenfranchised and fragmented #communication. As a result, staff got their heads down and did what they were told in order to meet their targets. This leads to a number of challenges, people tend to do what they are managed to do, but don't break cover or raise their heads above the parapet and develop problem solving or proactive strategy culture. Trust tends to be low, staff opportunity to expand their thinking or be stimulated by others is rare and so approaches ends up largely reactive and therefore emotionally and professionally draining. Talking with the teams at #Disney and at #Pixar, the #culture is very different. Yes there are high expectations and the pressure to perform is clear but people spend less time proving their value by being efficient and spend more time developing project groups to problem solve and develop new ideas. Ideas that #Disney know can come from anywhere at any time. Managers look to listen more and tell less, they see themselves as harvesters of #thinking. Professional development opportunities are as much about broadening horizons as they are improving what you already do. At #Pixar, the magnificent atrium is designed to bring staff together, to have soft conversations and interactions that would simply not happen in the silos of peoples' teams or departments. Staff are encouraged, during paid, contracted time to go and explore areas of personal interest which they can then share within the company, to provoke thinking and new perspectives to problem solving and #ideation. Disney doesn't stand still because its people are always moving... The art of leadership at #Disney stems from their absolute commitment to promoting a #LearningCulture.

I have worked with a huge number of organisations over recent years, who, under the pressure of recent uncertainty, the accelerating digital revolution or even generational shifts have been looking to evolve their cultures to a greater sense of #empowerment through learning. I advise leaders to start by ensuring that teams are led with a commitment to:

and a sense of celebrating:



to book me to speak at your event, please contact Michael Levey: michael@speakingoffice.com

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